He looked sad for a minute that morning. Stood in the doorway staring out at nothing in particular, his eyes watered up a bit more than usual. They’re watery anyway, in the way that old men’s eyes get, in the way you never think your father’s eyes are going to get. But this was more than usual. A timely blink could’ve unleashed a tear. His hands shoved in the pockets of his shorts, he looked as though for a moment he remembered. Not everything, but something, even just that there was something to remember. And with that he knew that it was time. Somewhere in his lost head, a head that knew little but the most basic of things, and not even those very well, there was a sadness and an understanding. It only lasted a moment, then his brow furrowed at an imagined annoyance, and he pointed at a tree, a tree that had been there for years, and asked what the fuck it was doing there.
Perhaps I projected. Maybe I saw what I wanted to see. It’s so easy to do with his dementia. It’s not like some forms, where the distant past can remain crystalline and sacred. No, Frontal Temporal Dementia is cataclysmic, deleting almost everything and bringing the structure that held it crashing down. Like erasing a chalkboard, leaving that thin dusty film of white, and then kicking the board into kindling. With so little remaining, it doesn’t take much to put there what you want to see.
Sometimes he seemed like a great actor who forgot his lines. The words, their meaning, their place. He sounded so like the man I knew. But the things he said, even though they were in his voice, weren’t him. Sudden anger, annoyance, and a stream of swearing at some mysterious slight. And yet all I had to do was stick my tongue out, make a funny face, and give him a thumbs up, and all was laughter. It was something he’d done to cheer me up, when I was little. Then, as I grew up, we would both do it, trying to catch each other out. Now it’s just me, using it like he did, to cheer up a stubborn child. Child? I guess so. A 79 year-old baby.
And like a baby, moments of joy were a wonder. His smile and laugh lost nothing. But when they passed, a blankness returned. Disinterest; vacancy.
We took him to the home on Monday. It was unexpected in the way that inevitable things tend to be. Instead of drama, it was a quiet, paperwork laden process. Every possible disaster played out in my mind, but not in reality. It’s a nice place, run by caring people. His room was nice. He chatted and said hello to the strangers around him. When mom said goodbye he said I love you. I held his hand and kissed his forehead and told him to take care, I’d see him soon. Whatever presence had been there that morning was gone. His attention turned from us to the book in his hands. Pages covered in words he didn’t understand. We left the room and then left the home and part of me was destroyed.
In my head, my father’s been gone for some time. His disease left an echo of the man I knew. We, I, had to be pragmatic about it when mom could not, and seek what was best for her and best for him. Taking care of him was killing her. I knew, we knew, were resolved, convinced, convicted, all this was for the best. But now there’s doubt, not that we made the right decision, but that it’s what I wanted. For her, for him. Because leaving my father there and sitting here without him all I have left is missing him. Pushed down and back and deep for four years there’s no longer his echo to provide the comfort and frustration, to delay that truth. I miss my father. I miss the man he was and the man he is now. I miss him laughing with elfin delight when I stick my tongue out and give him a thumbs up. So that moment on Monday morning, that glimpse of sadness, if that’s what it was. I so desperately hope that was there. That for a moment he understood enough to be sad and that we shared that sadness. Because I’ll miss him for the rest of my life, and he’ll never know.